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Nelson receives Sister Kenny 2012 Inspiration Award

Sarah Harvieux, PT (two from the right) presents Colleen Nelson (three from the left) with the Inspiration Award. Shown from left are: Molly Galles, daughter; Dave Nelson; Nelson; Harvieux, PT; and Michele Inserra, daughter. <i>Submitted photo</i>

Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute (SKRI)-River Falls selected Colleen Nelson of River Falls as this year's recipient of the SKRI Inspiration Award.

Each year, bestows Inspiration Awards on persons:

  • Who have persevered despite seemingly insurmountable odds
  • Whose achievements or outcomes are extraordinary
  • Whose actions serve to encourage others
  • Who serve as advocates, championing the issues of those with disabilities.

Nelson had therapy at SKRI after she began having symptoms in late 2007, and was eventually diagnosed with polymyositis, a persistent inflammatory muscle disease causing weakness of the skeletal muscles that control movement.

Her condition and functional abilities progressively worsened. By January 2010, she was wheelchair-bound and required total assistance for personal care.

Due to her debilitated status and a history of 12 falls over a three-year period, she received home care therapies for a year to gain enough strength to participate in outpatient therapy.

When Nelson began outpatient therapy at SKRI-River Falls in October 2011, she was able to walk only very short distances with a rolling walker and could tolerate only light, seated exercise.

She required a chair with arms to maintain balance during exercises and was unable to lift her left leg while in a seated position. Her physician even ordered a power wheelchair for her at that time because he believed she would need it for the long-term. Despite a daunting diagnosis and prognosis, Nelson maintained a positive attitude and was determined to regain her independence. "She focused on her goals and never complained when asked to perform any new activity that was difficult or scary for her," said Sarah Harvieux, PT, Nelson's therapist.

During the next 18 months, Nelson attended physical therapy regularly and performed her home exercise program diligently.

"As a team," said Harvieux, "we were able to celebrate milestones such as preparing a sandwich for lunch, standing up, and going up and down two steps."

These were achievements that enabled Nelson eventually to rejoin her card group, take a family vacation, drive a car and walk without a walker.

Nelson, who continues today to perform her home exercises, says her power wheelchair is now pulled out of the closet once a month for her grandchildren to drive and keep the battery fresh.

"As a care provider," said Harvieux, "Colleen has inspired me to help others achieve their goals, even if the road is long and the prognosis uncertain. She has also been an inspiration to everyone she knows -- including her spouse, friends, family and all the members of her therapy team."